Jewish Politics and Jewish Art
As an aspiring art collector, I’ve recently purchased modern photographs, pop art, and more. I’ve also attended auctions with friends, and started visiting art galleries in numerous cities.
It’s not a world I know much about – but I do know that I will purchase only things that I think look nice. Secondarily, it’d be nice to have the art increase in value. There is also the caveat that I will not buy artwork (or from artists) that are fundamentally opposed to Judaism or Israel.
At least one recent decision was easy. I cherish time in Saint-Paul de Vence, a breathtaking village in the South of France where Marc Chagall lived (and is buried). At the entrance to the village, one finds a huge sign commemorating Chagall, who was raised in a Chasidic home, immersed in Judaism, and wrote of being deeply moved by Judaism’s holiest places.
Perhaps the world’s most influential Jewish artist ever, any Jew in the world can proudly display Chagall. There is Chagall artwork at the Knesset, Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, Lincoln Center, and many other places. Chagall said that visiting Palestine (Israel) in 1931 gave him “the most vivid impression he had ever received,” and that he was deeply moved by the holy places. He stated, “In the East I found the Bible and part of my own being.” There is so much of the Jewish experience that can be learned by further studying Chagall.
As a fan of “street art,” I enjoy the work of international street artist Banksy. But I’ll never buy any of his work. During a visit to Israel he created nine pieces of graffiti on the so-called “West Bank” barrier and said that the wall “…essentially turns Palestine into the world’s largest open-air prison.” Door closed.
Door open, however, to Mr. Brainwash (MBW), a Los Angeles based street artist. The man – whose real name is Thierry Guetta – makes colorful, fun, feel good pieces that I think will rise in value. Researching, one learns he’s a Tunisian Jew, whose parents fled to France to escape persecution. Guetta receives my “kosher for purchase” artwork stamp.
The next debate came when I fell in love with a piece of art that depicted Albert Einstein,Time Magazine’s “Person of The Century.” Einstein was a brilliant man who was devoted to making the world a better place. The issue? As a lifelong follower of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, I was perturbed that when Menachem Begin came to America, Einstein signed a letter with a number of others that denounced Begin as a “terrorist, right-wing chauvinist,” whose movement was “closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy, and social appeal to Nazi and Fascist parties.”
As one who considers Begin a Jewish hero, a clear dilemma. While no Torah issue, this question required Halachic consultation. A close Rabbi friend whom I greatly respect for his knowledge (and politics) blessed the purchase. As he said, “Albert Einstein was a great man, a proud Jew, and a source of inspiration for creativity, and thinking out of the box who paved the road back between faith and science, Judaism and Zionism. He was not a politician and was probably incited against Jabotinsky. It’s not important.” My wife loving the piece made the decision easier.
Last month, I won an auction when I bid on a piece called “Enlightenment” by my friend, artist Ron Agam. He described the piece as “emphasizing the strength the Jews bring to the world.” Given his support for Israel – and this gorgeous piece of work -what could be better? Of course, every purchase can’t be that easy, can it?
Based in New York City, Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR, an author, philanthropist – and hopes to be a successful art collector.